Erotic Refugees by Paddy Kelly
01. He hated square things where round things would have been better. Round things were always the right way up, always symmetrical, while square things demanded to be parallel to other lines and edges, to be constantly poked and adjusted and squinted at until they matched their surroundings.
02. “I’m getting some water, you want some?”
“Tea would be deadly.”
“I’m sure it would, but I don’t have any of your strange Irish tea. And you won’t drink the tea that I have.”
“That stuff’s not tea,” Rob said as Kajsa swung her legs out of the bed and padded to the kitchen.
“Tea doesn’t have fruit and flowers and all that mystery crap in it. Tea’s made from black leaves, and only black leaves. Anything else is a crime against nature.”
03. So the temptation to take it easy was pretty strong and Rob was a big fan of temptation of any kind, generally giving it the full benefit of the doubt.
04. Without further preamble, Rob’s mother started to talk and Rob did his best to listen. This wasn’t easy, as the news from home generally consisted of people Rob vaguely knew who’d contracted cancer, produced an offspring, mangled a limb, left the country, or died in any number of horrible ways. A wedding or two might occasionally be mentioned but usually it was all fairly grim stuff.
05. Eoin felt it happening, like a landslide heading in slow-motion for some poor ramshackle village. He knew he was about to enter an argument engineered by a woman with the single intention of trapping him and making a point. He had braved these convoluted arguments on many an occasion and knew by now there was no way he could ever win one. No, from an argument like this there was only one way out, and that was in tiny bleeding chunks.
06. But Alice had got it into her head that this would be good for him, and things that Alice got into her head usually got out of her head and into reality fairly quickly. That’s just how it went, and so here he was.
07. Kajsa had a nice flat with a high ceiling and every detail planned out. She even had plants and Rob was in awe of anybody who could keep plants. The longest he’d kept something alive was a couple of weeks, and that had been a cactus.
08. He returned his attention to his sketches and decided that a trip to the stationery room was in order as he’d soon need a highlighter pen in another colour.
That cheered him up. A trip to the stationery room, on a day like this one, was really about as exciting as it got.
09. “Slight detour Eoin, sorry. Have to go to Ikea.”
“Do we.” Eoin couldn’t suppress a shiver. Jenny had liked Ikea far too much, but he’d never got used to the sheer scale of the place. All that choice, unending oceans of choice flowing up to the distant roof and leaving him feeling confused and ill. Give Eoin three or four things to pick from and he was happy, but that much choice was simply unhealthy.
10. After having made it through a fraction of the store, Eoin was already carrying a tottering pile of knick-knacks and had to find a yellow “in store” bag to put them all in. He studied each item as it slid it in, not having realised that he needed that particular thing at all, but at the same time sure it would make his life better in some small but significant way.
11. He took a clumsy step forward, gave her a clumsy hug—hugging was one thing that didn’t come natural to any Irishman—and stepped back to look at her from a metre’s distance.
12. The silence dragged on. Eoin raised his tea and sipped at it, feeling more and more like an idiot for popping in unannounced like this. The Swedes didn’t really do popping in very well. All popping, whether in or out, had to be arranged and confirmed at least a week in advance and then pencilled into a diary. Eoin knew this. This spontaneity had surely added to Alice’s level of fluster,
13. Rob grinned. Now this was interesting! She wasn’t a proper systems developer like he and Eoin had planned to find, but it was at least something. In fact, as Rob saw it, she had a definite edge over any proper systems developer in that she was right here and he wouldn’t have to do any work to find her. This, to Rob, was a big plus and made up for any number of inadequacies.
14. He fell asleep with a strange and novel feeling—the sensation of having got something useful done. And as weird as it was, Rob found he quite liked it.
15. As a customer in Sweden one was often treated as more of a hindrance than an asset, and it was just something that had to be put up with. Along with their confusion about what makes a sandwich, and their inability to pull a proper pint of Guinness.
16. The Swedes in the room all seemed a bit reserved but Rob knew after a few drinks they’d open up and start speaking English and turn into great and trusting friends. Then they’d be exactly as reserved the next time he saw them, as if the party had never happened at all.
17. “Wait, ye don’t want to be shaggin’ her?” Rob was afloat in a sea of confusion. “But why not?”
18. Eoin liked that she avoided the whole tanned-skin thing favoured by most Swedish women. In fact, he thought pale skin on a woman was quite Victorian and sexy.
19. Eoin’s face twitched, unsure about whether it should be smiling or frowning or what. Having no instructions to go on, it settled for a frozen grimace.
20. He could have easily taken the bottom one, since Rob was not leaving the sofa tonight, but he actually preferred top bunks.
21. A ceiling right above his face made him feel safe.
22. How would he ever live that down, to be found in a crumpled heap, battered and bleeding in skin-tight latex? His mother would kill the whole family and burn down the house just to avoid the shame.
23. “I thought you were a right dry bastard when I met ye.” He put down his Guinness. “Looks like I was wrong. Yer at best only mildly annoying.” Eoin blushed. He wasn’t good at dealing with positive comments.
24. “Um, thanks. And you’re … not so bad yourself.”
They were silent for a moment as they stared at each other. They both knew, just like the incident in the car on the way from Ikea, that this would be consigned to the emotional shoebox in the back of the cupboard and never be mentioned again. Gone, but still remembered.
25. And they had a range of geeky toys on a shelf (courtesy of Milly), the required mascots of any successful young web company. And with those, how could they fail?
Everything Will Be All Right by Tessa Hadley
01. What was striking however about Fiona Martin, while they were talking about air in the staff room, was that she was not looking round to see what the others thought, nor was she frowning in the required perplexity, nor did she look anxious or defiant like one of the naughty or dull ones. She was composed and sat straight-backed with her legs crossed, watching Mr Lloyd steadily, as if expectation of his explanation of the mystery was a quiet pleasure but nothing to make a fuss about… It ought to have been terrible, to be new, and yet Fiona Martin looked as if she wasn’t afraid.
02. She couldn’t wait to tell her women friend never, ever, to be tempted to put themselves through this; it was much more terrible than anyone could imaging in advance.
03. She knew in those first moments that his baby was never going to grow into any elf creature or spirit companion. Actually, she knew in the same moments that the spirit companion had been a silly idea. As if your child could be just a broken-off piece of yourself. Real things were always more tremendous–more unhinging–than the things that grew out of your own thoughts.
04. ‘He sort of decides what the right position is for him to take, then scrupulously sticks to it….He hates stupidity, so that you’re always afraid of saying something false, only you wonder what it isn’t more false to think first about everything you say…I’ve come to see how he uses intellectual ideas and books like a sort of stronghold to separate himself off from ordinary people, so he doesn’t have to stumble around in a mess like they do.
05. She heard in his voice a grim exulting pessimism. Simon never wanted to be caught out feeling shocked and appalled; he always wanted to have thought of the worst in advance. Then, whatever happened, he would be proved right; he would be ready with his irony.